Lectio Divina for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mar. 21, 2021
The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
“even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
Martha’s resilient and unconditional faith, despite the fact that Jesus did not prevent Lazarus from dying, has great significance. This is the same Martha who was annoyed when Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while she did all the work throughout the house when Jesus visited. Mary again seems to be the passive one in this story, since she “stayed at home.” But in this story we see the fruit of Martha’s approach to faith. Perhaps Mary already believed that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead, and thus needed no further proof of Christ’s power. Or perhaps she stayed at home due to paralyzing grief and disappointment, feeling that her faith let her down when it mattered most. We cannot know for certain when it comes to Mary’s faith here. But for Martha, we know that she had a faith similar to the faith of the man who said “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Martha had faith, but it was the kind that needed active searching for proof to sustain. She had faith that seeks understanding, and this kind of faith is rewarded. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.”
Do we believe this? It’s hard to believe in an afterlife we cannot witness or experience for ourselves. Jesus knows this, and he knew how his followers could benefit from a literal manifestation of what he was talking about when he said “whoever believes in me might not perish but will have eternal life,” as we read in last week’s Gospel. It’s important to put the liturgical readings in context, and to at least try and remember what we read the week before, because it’s all part of a story. This week we are witnessing Jesus proving what he told us last week. He is a man of his word, because he is the word of God and whatever God says is true. Christ is not redefining the laws of nature as he sets about raising Lazarus from the dead. He is not defying the laws that govern the universe which his father has put in place. But his father is suspending those laws so that others may come to believe in the Son whom he sent.
He became perturbed and deeply troubled.
Why was Jesus troubled by Martha’s words? They are a genuine proclamation of faith. Perhaps Jesus was perturbed and deeply troubled because even though Martha believed Jesus was the son of God, she did not believe enough. She believed he was the one who is coming into this world, but her faith ended there. She apparently did not believe that Jesus could bring someone else back to this world, and bring Lazarus back to life. Jesus wanted Martha to have faith in the present moment, not just hope in the resurrection of the dead on the last day.
And Jesus wept.
Many people have pointed out that this is the shortest verse in all of Scripture; only three words, but they have profound depth. We could emphasize that his tears point to the fact that Jesus is human after all; but arguably what is even more significant is the fact that he is still God and that God wept. It’s a mystery that our tears are not an exclusive part of our human nature. One can meditate on angels crying at the crucifixion of Christ, or when any innocent person dies--or even when anyone dies. For death is not part of God’s original plan, so Christ is right to weep over the loss of not only a friend, but the loss of our eternal life with God which he must now restore with his own death. His tears are worth meditating on, because he is weeping over not only a friend but over the whole situation we are all in now due to sin. Christ sees what he must do to redeem us, but knows that even after paying the ransom for our sins there will still be those who refuse to believe. Seeing all of time at once, Jesus weeps over not only Lazarus whom he loves, and not only for his loved ones whom must bear the loss. He sheds tears for all, and with all, who cry over the loss of a loved one. He weeps not only for the pain they feel in their loss, but also for the one who was lost, because it was never supposed to be this way.
Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?
How potently these words of Jesus can speak to us, if we are open to them being an answer to our prayers. How many times, in our prayers, do we ask God, “Where are you?” How often have we wondered why God hides. This is one of the greatest stumbling blocks of faith: how do we believe in a God we cannot see? God answers with a question, “How can you see if you do not believe?” Look at the world with eyes that lack faith, and all you will see are trees, people, buildings, and all other everyday surroundings. Look at the world with the eyes of faith, and all of these things become proof of God’s existence. We can almost feel the frustration in Jesus’ voice here. Yes, Jesus is frustrated, and reasonably so. We have observed all of the real world that conspicuously proves his existence, and yet we so often still perceive it as not proof of his existence, but the very opposite--proof of his absence. Jesus says of those who don’t believe: “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13). Even if we think we have faith, it’s more than likely that we don’t have much at all, unless we can in fact move mountains. What will it take for us to have the kind of faith that Jesus had, that the saints had, where we can confidently say that all things are possible? How the world would benefit from having even just one person with such faith!
Lord Jesus, give us the theological virtue of faith, because on our own we cannot obtain it. You are our source of everything that is good. Help us to see beyond this world to the eternal glory you have prepared for us. Only in this way can we get through the trials and hardships of this life. Please stay close to us, because when you are near it is easier for us to believe. When you are near, you bring life even where there is death. Come and bring life to the deadness in our lives. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
Lazarus was dead for four days. Oftentimes it’s at least that long before the Lord comes and answers our prayers, but he does answer those who wait upon him. There’s our timing and God’s timing. Our timing is impatient, anxious, and worried. God’s timing is perfect. Wait upon the Lord and he will speak to you through his word and through your life if you listen.
David Kilby is a freelance writer and managing editor of Catholic World Report.
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